HOUSTON (AP) — With its 100th anniversary coming up quick the Houston Zoo is looking to step into its second century with a few changes.
The Houston Chronicle reports officials this month launched a $150 million centennial fundraising campaign and released renderings for several new multi-species habitats. A new, sleek Houston Zoo logo was also unveiled.
Houston Zoo CEO Lee Ehmke, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and campaign chairs Cullen Geiselman and Joe Cleary laid out the next four years of work to be done. Half the zoo's 50 acres will be redeveloped.
As officials made their comments and a special video showed the work to be done, hundreds of Houston-area school kids roamed around the grounds with parents, teachers and chaperones, re-instilling the educational value of Houston's zoo.
The sound of new construction and children's voices made for a cacophonous yet hopeful backing soundtrack to the proceedings.
The zoo turns 100 years old in 2022, but the zoo has been making major changes over the past few years. Since it was privatized in 2002, nearly $150 million has gone into it via the community for a zoo that houses some 8,000 animal residents.
A donation of $50 million from the John P. McGovern Foundation is in part making the planned improvements possible. It is the largest gift to the zoo in its lengthy history. So far more than $102 million has been secured, according Ehmke, with those funds coming from individuals and corporations alike.
Chevron has pledged a grant of $1.8 million, Ehmke said.
"We aim to redefine what a zoo can be with beautiful and immersive habitats, compelling guest experiences and an unyielding commitment to saving wildlife," said Ehmke.
Having the zoo's diversity mirror that of the Houston community was also mentioned during the launch event.
Recent big additions have included the McNair Foundation Great Ape Gallery and the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, both highly popular exhibits with Houstonians.
Right now visitors have likely noticed some extra construction underway. One of those projects is a Texas Wetlands exhibit, opening in spring 2019.
Texas Wetlands is one of three new habitats coming to the Houston Zoo. Two more, the Pantanal and the Galapagos Island, will arrive in 2021 and 2022 respectively. They will show animals in naturalized, realistic habitats. This has been a zoo goal for years now.
A new main entry will also be coming in 2022. A larger bird garden, and a new avian conservation center, will help further the zoo's already award-winning bird conservation efforts.
Orangutans and bear habitats will also get updates within the next year.
Some of the zoo's current residents also were at the event as ambassadors, like a tiny American alligator named Bend and a Great Plains rat snake named Pistol Pete. Norman, a prehensile-tailed porcupine stole the show for many attendees.
Turner, just after feeding a large Galapagos tortoise named Seymour, told Chron.com that he's been coming to the zoo since he was a little Houstonian himself.
"For kids like me, whose families couldn't afford to go outside of the city, this was our vacation spot," the mayor said. "As a kid, a native Houstonian, this was the place."
He said he always had to see the giraffes and elephants.
"Just for people who are here, coming to our city, it's an attraction," Turner said. "It's a very calming and tranquil place."
It was just five days after last year's Hurricane Harvey, Turner recalled, that the zoo welcomed 51,000 patrons who were coming to take their minds off of the torrential damage from the storm.
The animals, in a sense, did their part to bring Houston back to normal.
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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com